Whispers of Serenity

In the quiet of eventide, while he read and she wrote, the flutter of pages would fill their bedroom. Like the soft vibrations in a bird’s wings, catching the wind’s breath in its feathers. The scratches of her pen seemed to murmur in answer of her pensive mumblings. Sounds that often followed him to the dells beyond consciousness.

Sometimes he would peek at her from the top of his book. Her hunched figure at the desk, protecting her writing as if it were some treasure. She had never allowed him to read from her book that always seemed ready to burst from all the notes wedged between its pages, until it appeared an odd and pregnant thing.

But the writings she did allow him to see, were often scattered like lucky coins throughout their apartment. Neatly folded pieces of her heart that he tucked within his wallet, until the leather bulged with every collected charm.

And on the days when he could not be with her, he would untuck each slip of paper to hear the flutters of her heartbeat; the echoes of serenity she’d given him.

***

The Roper’s House

The last house on Elmers Road was like a hideous scab that wouldn’t go away. But for whatever reason, it was a hoarded relic attracting intrigue and scorn. Weathered strips of yellow tape still hung around the property with its unkempt hem of browning foliage. Five years ago, Mr. Roper had slaughtered his family within those brick walls before slotting the shotgun between his teeth.

Adriana had been at school the day it happened. She’d returned home to chaotic flashes of red and blue, screeching sirens and the banshee wails of neighbors. Her mother had rushed her upstairs with an urgent instruction not to leave her room. From her window, she had watched wildfires of grief and shock rage below; had felt panic flood her chest and mouth with a metallic bitterness.

But time had boxed away the nausea associated with those memories and now, her gaze lingered on the looming scar that wouldn’t allow any of them to forget what had happened. Back then, she’d thought the house was beautiful and pristine, its walls colored in a deep, eternal blush. And the flowerpots lining the porch had always blossomed with such lovely flowers. The two upper windows, too, had seemed like smiling eyes.

She craned her neck to look at the twin frames of glass now; they didn’t gleam with transparent pride — caked over in years of dust.

Adriana had heard several rumors about the Ropers since then. Of the boring sort. How Mr. Roper had been involved in the occult. That the family had partaken in blood rituals. That malevolent spirits roamed the empty halls. But there was no suffocating tension she could feel, standing this close to the house.

Without thinking, Adriana had already covered the weedy walkway to the Roper’s porch. She glanced over her shoulder, saw her house roof eyeing her from a block away. It wouldn’t hurt to take a look inside, after all this time. No-one could hurt her and it was still only a little after five in the afternoon.

The door winked at her and with the toe of her boot, she pushed it open further. She looked over her shoulder again. The wind ambled the empty street. She slipped inside and looked around the hallway, cast in a dim shadow, almost emptied of all its furniture.

A low and heavy breath whispered from her lips, gaze swinging from one side of the corridor to the next as she walked further into the house. Now the silence was unsettling. There was a family portrait on the wall leading to the kitchen and she stopped in front of it. Mr. and Mrs. Roper were standing with their twin girls between them, relaxed smiles on their faces. A normal family, as far as the picture told, but there were always secrets tucked in the seam of every smile.

She walked around the corner and stopped dead in her tracks when she caught the shift of something from the corner of her eye. Like a blurred motion she caught the tail-end of. There was nowhere the figure could have gone, except inside the kitchen wall. And Adriana was sure she wasn’t seeing things.

She licked her lips and took a breath. Probably it was just in her head. An uneasy bout of paranoia that she shook off with another deep sigh. It was better to go home now. She turned to retrace her steps. A scream exploded from her throat as a monstrous figure barreled towards her. The front door slammed shut.

There was no-one on the street. Just the wind and the fading glow of sunlight on Elmers Road.

***

Weekend Writing Prompt #196 – Possess

She only wanted his heart, but he wasn’t hers to possess.

It’s been a little over a year since I last participated in SammiCox’s weekend writing challenge. I didn’t get much of a chance to sit down with my books and thoughts today, but I still wanted to get something written — even if it’s just 11 words.

I hope everyone will have a happy Saturday 🌼

Stockholm Romance

He’d been gone for an eternity. Time had tumbled from its axis the second the latch clicked in place. But, as soon as he returned to her, her ragged pulse calmed with her quieting sobs. He undid the iron cuffs securing her to the bed and she flung herself against him. In his hand was an apple which she took after she kissed him. Just as he’d taught her. Her yellowed teeth sank into the plump fruit. Juice squirted over her scarred lips.

“Are you satisfied?”

It had taken her months to learn the right answer: “You’re all I need.”

Euphoria

The rain came, euphoria warm on its breath. It called to her from the kitchen, glistening rivulets winking at her like crystals against the thick glass. And, without a second thought, she dashed outside, bare feet sliding over wet grass, mud squelching between her yellow-painted toes. The rain clapped at her shoulders as the wind spun her about. She caught the dizzying rush of nostalgia bubbling up inside her — the thrill of childlike abandon.

She splashed from puddle to puddle until her lavender skirt bore the stains of giddy mischief. And when she turned around, she found him watching her in the open backdoor, a peculiar expression on his face. As if she were the biggest idiot he’d ever known. But there was something tender between his scrunched brows. She squinted through the rain at him as his lips slowly eased into a smile.

She ran up to him then, clasping his bearded jaw between her wet palms, mashing their mouths together. And she didn’t let go, hopeful he could taste the euphoric bliss still rich on her lips.

My Cousin Sunmar

Sunmar was supposed to be a kept secret. Tucked away like a miser’s treasure, safe from prying and greedy eyes. Sunmar was my cousin.

My brother, Jeff, and I would always go to Auntie Jackie’s and Uncle Vern’s house for winter break. We knew they had a son, but we’d never been introduced to him. He existed like a ghost pressed upon our memories and an awareness of him always prickled at my spine whenever I saw his baby pictures. It was odd that there were no photographs after his toddler years, only a mysterious gap that kept widening as we got older. But my brother and I knew better than to ask questions. We rolled curiosity beneath our tongues, grinded it between our teeth and swallowed back every bitter chunk.

My brother sometimes joked that Sunmar was a freak of nature with a grotesque abnormality that made him terrifying to look at. I thought that was stupid. Auntie Jackie and Uncle Vern were both perfectly normal people. In a lot of ways, the resemblance between her and my mother was eerily similar even though they weren’t twins. But Auntie Jackie’s age showed in the half-moon shadows beneath her eyes.

I didn’t like the way my brother always used such harsh words to describe Sunmar, because I was certain his voice dashed the halls and bounded up the steps to Sunmar’s room. And there were times, when the house fell still, that I could hear the quiet pitter-patter of footsteps. The timid rustle of quiet breaths. I was sure it was Sunmar. But for some reason, my heart would flail and heave against my ribcage and I’d hide beneath the covers as if to save myself from a monster lurking the thick shadows of the room – or prowling the corridors outside.

It was silly to be afraid. Sunmar was perhaps the same age as Jeff and twelve-year-old’s weren’t really that scary. But I hardly knew Sunmar and the unknown silhouette of him planted in my mind took on every terrifying projection of my imagination. I blamed Jeff for that; it was his fault such ugly ideas had rooted so deep in my thoughts. And then one night, I found out Jeff had been wrong all along.

Sunmar wasn’t anything horrific like the fabled Minotaur trapped in Daedalus’ labyrinth. He was a normal kid, like Jeff and I, with a slighter frame and an even more diminutive air. I saw him in the corridor as I darted from dark corners to get to the bathroom down the hall. We crashed into each other and before I could apologize, he tugged me into the bathroom and put his finger up to his lips.

Footsteps rippled through the silence toward the bathroom and Sunmar didn’t look away from me, only flinching at the sound of Auntie Jackie calling at the door.

“I’m sorry Auntie Jackie, I slipped on the way to the bathroom, but I’m okay.”

Auntie Jackie yawned around a sleepy rebuke that I shouldn’t have been running in the hallway. I apologized again and listened as she walked away. When I was sure she was gone, I offered Sunmar a smile. He did not smile back.

“It’s nice to finally meet you, Sunmar.”

He ignored my greeting, “You cannot tell your brother you saw me.”

The quiet urgency steeling his voice made me nervous. I crossed my hands at my midriff, frowning down at him. Did I look like a blabbermouth?

“Why not?”

He shook his head, eyes glistening with many things. His fear was the most palpable and I immediately felt my stomach sink like an anchor, clattering to the floor of my soul. Were Auntie Jackie and Uncle Vern hurting him? But that couldn’t be possible. They were such nice people.

“I promise I won’t tell.”

“You never saw me, okay?”

I had so many questions, but his frantic tone shook something inside me that became afraid for him. I swore to him that I would never tell anyone and then he was gone. I couldn’t hear his footsteps, but I knew he was running back to his room.

I went back to bed after washing my hands and buried myself beneath the sheets. Was it strange to feel victorious yet defeated at the same time? I knew what he looked like, but I couldn’t tell Jeff.

Sunmar had been like a doll. Porcelain face and eyes the color of a deep forest rich with morning dew. He had the reddest lips I’d ever seen. His hair, dark mahogany and curled, framed his cheeks perfectly. He was so beautiful. I wished we could have talked more, because I wanted him to be my friend. But my brother and I were going to leave in the morning, which meant I would have to wait until next winter.

And when the months finally settled into the chilling flurries of winter, we were packed into Dad’s truck and driven to Auntie Jackie’s and Uncle Vern’s for the winter break. Auntie Jackie and Uncle Verne were happy to see us as usual. They played with us and I could feel Sunmar’s eyes watching me from the photographs on the walls. It was when the final light of dusk had melted away into the horizon that I realized Sunmar was gone.

****

Morning Accident

Scalded tongue
Burns with curses —
Hot coffee
Poured down the drain
Bittersweet swirls
Of wasted pleasure
Washed down
In vacant streams

An angry jerk
Of the refrigerator door
Bears a cold breath
Over flushed cheeks
Ice cubes crudely culled
From their deep beds
For the surly monster
Rolling out from its wet cave —
Pink and scorched

Saliva drips into the sink
The burn cools

She pours another
Cup of hot coffee
A bit more sugar spooned in
To soothe the sting
Less distracted sips this time
As she settles into her chair

Staying Alive

Rupert’s hand would always go to his pocket when his sensibilities strayed too far beyond the fray. His focus would glaze, amber irises dimming like the telltale signs of life slowly ebbing from a character in a tragic film. He’d rub the things sheltered in his left pocket. Three rubiginous balls. Cold, plastic shells cocooning the essence of the lives lost to him in the fire that razed his home three years ago. His three girls.

He’d stopped questioning his sanity at the faint, pulse-like vibrations thrumming from within. Instead, he’d learned to draw comfort from the warmth ghosting the scars that scorched his crooked fingers. The bones had never truly slipped back in place after that desperate attempt to break the grill with his bare hands and get his girls out. He clenched the balls tight, eyes squeezed shut to snuff the flames that licked at the edge of his memories. The screams faded from recall. He was almost certain he felt a small hand grip his own.

He looked out to the cyan loch softly rippling as seagulls called. His vision focused to catch the sun in a bashful descent of soft pinks and purples. He stroked the balls again. Rolled them around gently in his palm. Whether it was real, or all in his head, it was all he had. All he could cling to. It was all he had to keep him grounded.

What Isn’t

His touch was always like a phantom wind. A zephyr grazing her cheek. As if he was afraid fire would trail his hand and burn her. And he always kept his distance whenever they walked together. Careful that their hands never bumped or brushed together. The subtlety of his avoidance perplexed her. But she would swallow every question, losing concern in the glimmer of fondness from his silver gaze. 

Maybe there was a condition he was sensitive to, something he wasn’t ready to share with her just yet. Which was fine. They’d only been talking for a month, meeting by the lake in the evenings beneath the indulgent starlight. And as they strolled that night, him listening to her recall a cherished childhood memory, she grabbed hold of his hand. Just to surprise him. Just to feel the warmth of his large hand within her own. But her fingers caught nothing, except a fleeting, chilling breeze.

Morning Rituals

She didn’t like coffee, but the smell reminded her of home. Of early mornings roused from sleep by the chaos unfolding in the kitchen down the hall. Her father had always been late for work, stumbling over his big, socked feet to grab his briefcase while stuffing his shirttail in his pants. She would catch him gulping down his coffee and passing off the mug to her mother at the front door. Sometimes he’d skid back inside to kiss her on the forehead, brush his lips against his wife’s cheek, and then he was gone – swift as a tornado. And the house would be quiet again, until she and her mother exchanged glances and burst into fits of giggles over his daily theatrics. 

She lifted the warm cup to her lips tilted with mirth, then closed her eyes, filling her lungs with the dark, rich aroma. Her father had loved coffee, not beer or the harder stuff – beverages symbolic of manhood. It had fused with the wooden essence of his own musk. She’d often trailed the scent to the den, where she’d found him intensely engaged in a game of soccer — mug of coffee at his side. The activity and choice of drink were so hilariously incongruent, because sometimes he’d chip a vulgar curse then delicately sip from his mug. She would try so hard to choke her laughter, but it had always broken free in a deep wheeze and she’d tell him he was weird. 

She opened her eyes, catching curious glances from others sitting nearby. Her coffee was untouched, she only brought  it close just to breathe it in and cocoon herself in the memories. Her father’s love for the nauseating stuff, the joy rides on his back around the yard; halcyon days pocketed in her youth. It kept her going. Preserved her sanity.

The coffee grew cold. She set it back on its saucer then reached into her purse for money. Leaving behind a tip with her payment, she got up from the table and walked out the automatic sliding doors of the cafe. The sun was out despite the pelting rain. She opened her umbrella and walked down the street.